Major and Kohl declare a 'broad agreement' on Europe

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BONN - The German Chancellor, Helmut Kohl, and John Major talked yesterday of 'broad agreement', and of 'very friendly' discussions, after a one-day Anglo- German meeting ahead of next month's European Union summit in Brussels, writes Steve Crawshaw.

Both leaders emphasised the importance of improving European competitiveness, especially given the high rate of unemployment - around 18 million - across the region. Mr Major said: 'Unless we address the problem of being competitive, we can expect unemployment to continue to rise.'

Mr Kohl is just back from a trip to Asia, and Mr Major said that the two compared notes, following his own visit to South-east Asia a few months ago. 'We swapped impressions of the economic dynamism of that region. Unless we're competitive, it's a very serious threat.' Mr Major said that the growth in the Asian economies was a 'salutary reminder' that Europe 'cannot afford to look inwards - we must make sure that we're competitive in world trade'.

The two leaders also expressed optimism about the Gatt round of negotiations on liberalising world trade, due to be concluded by 15 December. In the words of Mr Major, the prospects have 'improved noticeably'.

President Clinton telephoned Mr Major on Wednesday night, for a conversation devoted to Gatt issues. Mr Major talked yesterday of the 'very damaging outcome' if the Gatt talks were to fail. France, which wants to protect the subsidies for its farmers, is still unhappy about the proposed deal.

European policy has been a source of dissension between Britain and Germany, even in the post-Thatcher era. In an article in the Economist in September, Mr Major fired a shot across Germany's bows, talking of the 'dangerously fashionable' view among 'some continental politicians' that there is a need to move faster towards towards European unity. Mr Major rejected that view 'profoundly', and argued that it was time to put away the 'slogans and dreams'.

The attack caused dismay in Bonn, with officials talking of 'betrayal' by Mr Major of the single- mindedly pro-European Mr Kohl. But both sides seem eager to bury the old quarrels.

Meanwhile, Germany and Britain pledged to work together on a number of internal and security issues, including asylum, terrorism, and drugs. A joint declaration argued that it was essential for the deadline of October 1994 to be met for the creation of a European police office, which would be known as Europol.

The two countries also emphasised the need for 'common guarantees' on asylum procedures. Germany's laws have been much more liberal than Britain's but the flood of asylum-seekers into Germany - more than 400,000 last year - have caused enormous social tensions.

There has been official resentment in Bonn that Britain has been unwilling to share the burden. However, one of Britain's semi-official retorts is that it sends troops to Bosnia, while Germany -still tied in knots by its constitution - does not.